We’ve all heard stories about that lucky students who earns half-a-million dollars in scholarships. It seems unfair–how is it that a student gets way more money than they need while the rest of us struggle to win a single scholarship?
It’s because those students discovered little secrets that make them stand out on every scholarship application and makes them seem like the obvious choice. After interviewing several of these multi-scholarship winners, we discovered that there are 10 steps to the application process that most students don’t even think about.
Luckily for you, we are going to share these 10 items and it’s going to help you become a lucky winners on your scholarship applications.
1. Never copy and paste the title of the scholarship
Need a title for your essay or application? Do not use the title of the scholarship. “Out of the hundreds of scholarships I applied to, I never won a single scholarship when I used the same title as the scholarship,” says Amanda, who has won multiple scholarships this year.
“You have to think outside the box and think about the person judging your scholarship,” continued Amanda. “If I spent an hour on a scholarship essay, I normally would spend at least another 15 minutes just on the title. It might seem excessive, but I wanted the scholarship judges to read my title and have it hit them mentally and emotionally. I wanted them to feel the need to read more about my application.
“I remember one title I used that really made me stick out. I was tired of writing and ready to go to bed. When trying to come up with a title, I thought to myself I don’t even care if I win anymore. I just want to go to bed. This lead to the title Why I don’t deserve this scholarship, and why you’re still going to give it me. Did it work? I bet you’re dying to know. The scholarship judge definitely was anxious to find out what I wrote in the essay. That’s the power of a good title.”
2. Don’t take a student approach
Most students write essays that end up being very similar to each other. Why? Because you were taught to write the same way as everyone else. You’re a student, everybody else applying is a student, so most of you will end up writing from the average student perspective. If you follow the generic way most students write an essay, you’ll sound just like everybody else applying. When writing an essay, you need to think outside the box — which includes injecting your own personality. Easier said than done, right? Here’s a story to help inspire you:
There was a scholarship that required an essay about the author Charlotte Bronte who wrote Jane Eyre. The leading question to the essay was “what caused her writing to be so influential?”
One student, Andrea Thornton, decided to take a different approach to writing the essay. When talking with this student, she said, “I decided to take the out-of-the-box approach that I had never tried before. I wrote the essay as if I were Charlotte.” Her essay started off with the following introduction:
When I abruptly woke up to my room full of sisters, I could feel excitement in the air. Today was going to be an important day, and little did I know how impactful this day really was going to be on my life. This would be the day that I….
What if Andrea had taken the normal approach? Her essay would have likely started something like this: Charlotte Bronte who is known mostly for her work of Jane Eyre was born in April on the 21st day in the year 1816. Growing up she had…
Which would you rather read? Most scholarship judges would likely want to read the creative version. Andrea continued talking about her approach, “Can you feel the difference there? I did all I could to make my essays stand out. And you know what? It became fun to apply to scholarships, I actually started to really enjoy writing the essays.”
3. Understand quantity vs. quality
“After applying to about 30 scholarships, I started to find a nice flow for how much time and effort to put into a scholarship,” says Jenny Walls, who recently graduated from high school. “The first 10 scholarships probably took 3 to 5 hours each — maybe even more. I wanted to make sure that each essay was polished and perfected. You know what happened after that?”
“I got burnt out,” Jenny continues. “I didn’t want to apply to any other scholarships. I started questioning whether it was all worth it. Here I had put in about 40 hours into these 10 scholarships, and I wasn’t even sure I was going to win any. If I were have worked a job paying $7.00 an hour, I would have made at least $200.00 already. Giving up on applying to scholarships and starting to apply for jobs started to look more appealing to me.
“The only thing that kept me applying to scholarships is that I had set a goal to apply to a minimum of 30 scholarships. I argued with myself about this goal and ended up deciding to finish applying to the 30 scholarships. However, I also decided to not spend as much time on each application.”
“I bet I filled out the remaining applications in under six hours,” Jenny says enthusiastically. “I was feeling really good after that. I even started bragging to my mom about it. Then she said something that I’ll never forget. ‘So you feel more accomplished about wasting three hours than you do about all the hours you put into creating some awesome essays? It’s not a waste of time if you are growing from the experience.’”
“That’s when I figured out that applying for scholarships needs to be a balance of quality vs quantity, “ Jenny says confidently. “You’ll never win if you never put in any effort into writing a killer essay. But you’re also not likely to win a scholarship if you only apply to a couple. I won the most scholarships by finding a balance between the two.”
4. Remember your competition!
Everyone should read the qualifications before applying to a scholarship. Applicants who are serious about winning almost always ask themselves this question, “What are the judges looking for?” Those who actually win normally take it one step further and ask, “What is everybody else going to write?”
“When I fill out a scholarship application, I don’t think of the judges. I think about what the other students are going to write and then I figure out how I can be different,” explains Alan Baird, a freshman in college. “This is a much easier approach to figure out how to stand out.”
Being a cancer survivor, Alan had the opportunity to apply to some unique scholarships. There was one scholarship that stood out to him where he used this strategy to stand out. “There was one scholarship I was applying to that was only for Cancer Survivors. Even with that limitation, I was still competing against hundreds of students across the country, so it was just as hard as any other scholarship. Before I even started writing, I took a second to think about how everyone else would write their scholarship.
“I figured that the plot line of most of the stories would go something like this: My life was going along great; then cancer struck me and disrupted my whole life. These are the struggles I went through, a couple sad stories, and this is what I learned. So I thought to myself, how can I stand out against that?”
“I decided to offer a different take on my cancer experience,” Alan continues. This is the introduction to Alan’s essay:
I was living life happily I guess, but something was missing. I didn’t have any frustrations or problems in life, and I wasn’t actively growing in any way. At least that’s what I thought at the time. I didn’t know this, but I had millions of little cells growing and attacking me. The day that I found out about my cancer changed my life forever, but not in the way you’d think. I welcomed the challenge. I decided that this was my battle, my white whale, my alamo. This was the day that I knew I would start an epic journey — for better or for worse.
“Most of the stories that people wrote focused on experiences that happened to them. I decided to write about the experiences that I caused to happen because of cancer experience. I knew that my experience would stand out from the crowd. And yes, I earned that $7,500 scholarship.”
5. Read the directions thoroughly before starting
This one may seem like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how many students don’t take the time to actually read the instructions. Most people just assume that they know after maybe skimming the first sentence. A college sophomore named Julian Green recounted this surprising story about following a scholarship’s instructions:
“There was scholarship that I remember applying to because of how funny it was. There were 10 questions on the scholarship application. There were directions at the beginning that said: Please read all questions before you fill any out. I decided to do what the instructions said and read through all the questions before doing anything. When I got to the last question it said: Do not answer any of the previous questions. Only submit your name and email in this last question box. It was like one of those trick test that teachers give you to teach you a lesson about reading and following directions on a test. I couldn’t believe it!
“It turned out that the application captured any text you put in the previous questions and could see if read and followed the directions correctly. That was one of my favorite scholarships I ever applied to. Even though I didn’t end up winning that one, it sure stood out to me.”
6. Become friends with your teachers/professors
“My father told me to become friends with my professors so that I get letters of recommendations to use for job applications after graduating. At first I wasn’t very comfortable with that thought. I’m not the most outgoing individual, and some of the professors intimidated me. After my first two semesters, I realized that I was paying these professors. Without me and the other students, they wouldn’t have a job. Coming to that realization, I started asking them for letters of recommendation,” says Julie Hesler, a recent university graduate.
“After approaching the first two professors that I liked, I realized that it wasn’t too difficult. Most professors are glad to help students out. I started raising my hand more and having one-on-one conversations with the professors after class. Most of my professors ended up becoming friends and mentors. They helped me to find an awesome job and have an extra advantage when applying to departmental scholarships.”
7. Apply as soon as you can
If you know a scholarship is about to open, have everything ready in advance — be the first applicant possible. Scholarship judges are more likely to notice your well-written application while their minds are fresh. The judge will likely take more time and pay attention to details.
After reading 100 applications, the judge is likely only be skimming and trying get through all the applications. The applications that the judge reads first are more likely to be both remembered and read again.
“Just think about it. I know that I would start rushing through applications and essays if they were all about the same topic. There are so many reasons to try to be the first application. Just do it!” recommends Lisa Campos, who has already won several scholarships this year.
8. Get a third party opinion
When applying to many scholarships it’s easy to get stuck in a rut and make mistakes. “Before submitting anything I would have ask one of my friends to read my application. They often times found mistakes that I didn’t realize were there. In return I read their applications and would find mistakes they didn’t realize either,” says Marcus Moore.
“I also asked my friends rate my scholarship essays on a scale of one through ten: One being a black-and-white documentary and ten being an adventure thriller. If I got anything lower than a six, I went back and rewrote the essay.”
9. Don’t get too attached
As soon as you get too attached to certain scholarships, you’ll start feeling hurt when your application isn’t the winner. “It’s a quick way to get burnt out,” says Megan Lewis. “It happened to me with the first two scholarships that I applied for. I put many hours writing the essays for those scholarships. I was pretty confident that I would end up winning both of them. When the news came that I hadn’t won either of them, I got very discouraged. It took me a couple months before I worked up the energy to start applying again. I simply got too attached to the scholarships that I applied for.”
10. Be persistent and don’t give up
If you fail, try again — it’s as simple as that. Don’t give up just because you didn’t win the first couple scholarships that you applied to. You’ll get better and better each time you apply for a scholarship. You can’t expect to get enough money for school by applying to only a couple scholarships. Be persistent. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did. The scholarship winners that were interviewed for this article never gave up until they had the money they needed to pay for school and graduate debt free. You can too! Commit to applying to at least one scholarship today and make a plan to apply to more.